La Boca Neighbourhood:

La Boca translated in Spanish as ‘the Mouth’ is a neighborhood in the Argentinian capital of Buenos Aires. It is in the southeastern part of the city center. La Boca is a natural port, known for its tango history, and soccer clubs. It is one of the oldest and most iconic neighborhoods. 

An architectural review of a location: La Boca, Buenos Aires - Sheet1
La Boca Streets_ Sadlowski, A. (2018)

Immigrant History:

This area at the mouth of the Riachuelo River is where the city’s first people landed. La Boca slowly developed into a shipyard area. Initially, it was only a point for boats.

It was eventually the site of meat plants that contributed greatly to the economy of Buenos Aires. This neighborhood became the settling area for immigrants of a wide variety of origins because it was close to the river.

The immigrants worked in meatpacking plants and warehouses, shipping, and trading frozen beef.

The neighborhood has an Italian touch since many early immigrants were fishermen from the city of Genoa. The Genoese chose a waterfront dwelling setting when they arrived and it became a cluster of working-class people.

Soon Italians and other immigrants arrived and La Boca became a neighborhood full of diversities. This gave rise to ‘Tango,’ a sensual couple dance that the immigrants performed.

An architectural review of a location: La Boca, Buenos Aires - Sheet2
Structures_ www.viator.com. (n.d.)

Architecture:

These immigrants started working in the surrounding vicinity, at the docks, and built homes from the scrap material leftover from nearby ship-building called ‘conventillos’ meaning cramped boarding houses.

An architectural review of a location: La Boca, Buenos Aires - Sheet3
La Boca_ Kaushik (2016)

Seeing the need for color in their neighborhood, these poor inhabitants of the port painted over their corrugated iron houses with leftover paint that was used to maintain the port’s barges. As a result of this added color, the community became brighter and more vibrant. A long-running tradition was established and this barrio was given its distinctive character and color.

The haphazard houses that adorn the streets are painted in bright colors. This wasn’t always the case until local artist Benito Quinquela Martín decided to use his neighborhood as a canvas. This idea was followed by the rest of the neighborhood to color their shanty homes.

The artist helped revive the La Boca neighborhood by gathering people and hosting open-air performances with graffiti in the backdrop. Hence, later the government declared the area to be an open-air museum that has walls full of color.

As far as the environment is concerned, the neighborhood’s renovation was a great idea since it prevented the demolition of existing structures. It allowed the area to be rebuilt which not only saved on construction costs but was also an excellent example of how reused and recycled materials can be used in construction.

It has developed its unique architectural design/style. Many groups of immigrants that arrived in Argentina have contributed to making homes out of the available cheap raw materials because money was not easily available.

Corrugated metal, along with wood boards and planks, provided shelter for the people but also developed a unique style of design. With some corrugated metal being placed horizontally and some vertically, the buildings became visually appealing. Also, wood boards and planks did not follow the norms and were constructed according to available sizes.

The left-over paint which included primary colors was never enough to color one structure with two stories in one color; hence the homes together look like random blocks of colors. The windows are like random punctures.

La Boca with its humble beginnings did not have artists, but immigrants who felt the need to create a colorful neighborhood and spread joy.

Present-day La Boca:

La Boca is now an artists’ colony with a dominance of the working-class people. La Bocas’ colorful history and legacy are seen in “el Caminito”. It is a cobblestone street with old houses turned into souvenir shops and restaurants. This traditional alley has peddlers who sell art, musicians, tango dancers, and stalls offering trinkets of every variety. It is a visually vibrant street full of life.

Over time, the architecture of La Boca has evolved, and many of the houses have been renovated and modernized. However, the vibrant color scheme has remained a key feature of the neighborhood.

That tradition of colored homes has continued today, with numerous murals, and artworks mostly football-related located throughout the streets of the neighborhood. The street art reflects the neighborhood’s history, and culture, and has become an important part of La Boca’s identity.

But other than this street being developed for tourist reasons, the remaining neighborhood is poor and unsafe.

Tourism:

With brightly colored merchant houses, contemporary museums, street art, tango shows, and soccer, La Boca is a must-see neighborhood in Buenos Aires. There are large dolls modeled after the locals leaning over wrought-iron balconies, and after some of the most famous soccer stars in the country. There also are many tango clubs and Italian taverns.

La Boca with its urban charm showcases the traditions and customs that originated from the city’s immigrant past and which have shaped its present distinct identity. Overall, the architecture of La Boca is a unique blend of history, culture, and creativity.

References:

www.britannica.com. (n.d.). La Boca | area, Buenos Aires, Argentina | Britannica. [online] Available at: https://www.britannica.com/place/La-Boca 

Wikipedia Contributors (2019). La Boca. [online] Wikipedia. Available at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/La_Boca

Mohanram, A. (2018). A look at the Caminito in La Boca, Argentina. The Hindu. [online] 9 Mar. Available at: https://www.thehindu.com/life-and-style/homes-and-gardens/why-we-need-arty-neighbourhoods/article22997428.ece 

Anon, (2011). La Boca & Caminto: Buenos Aires’ Most Fabled Neighborhood. [online] Available at: https://wander-argentina.com/la-boca/

Author

Netra is an architecture graduate who is passionate about all things design, loves to observe how spaces unfold while creating memories and enjoys putting thoughts into words with a design perspective.

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